Inside Mt. Hood’s Glacier Caves
Text by Kate Sennert
Until very recently, the Sandy Glacier on Oregon’s Mt. Hood harbored a secret. Beneath its icy exterior hid some of the largest glacial caves in the United States south of Alaska.
These sublime formations, sculpted by the hands of time and the forces of nature, are as ominous as they as spectacular. Their very presence on the western slope of Mt. Hood, just an hour’s drive from downtown Portland, signals the depletion of a vital water source that millions depend on below. Unlike a cave made of soluble rock, glacial caves are comprised entirely of ice. They are formed inside a glacier by meltwater above and warm air below. A cave’s shape, size and structural integrity are in constant flux; in a sense, every day it is a new cave. Accessible only through holes in a glacier’s surface, they are difficult to find and even harder to explore. Suffice to say, research on these glittering cathedrals has been limited. Until now.